I grew up with stories my mom told about her own childhood. Most of them were oft repeated, yet they were more like parables than stories with a plot, characters, and a central conflict. Nevertheless, I’m reluctant to just let those stories fade away. They form a part of the backdrop to my own childhood. They carry a meaning, at least for me, that goes beyond the simple events they often recount. So I plan to tell some of them, as much as I can remember of them.
My mom was born Iva Lorraine Green, the first girl after four boys. Her older brothers were Marshall (named after her dad), Herman, Hershel, and David. She had two younger sisters, Emogene and Donna. As the first girl, she got teased a lot by her brothers and had to shoulder the responsibilities of “women’s work” on the farm as soon as she was old enough to stand at the sink and scrub dishes or boil water on the stove. Her brothers used to have real pissing contests. They would take turns pissing on the side of the barn. The one who could make his mark highest would win. I can imagine Iva, her green-eyed round face framed in dark curls, peeking around the corner of the barn to watch them. On the farm, there wasn’t much place for the prudishness of city life. She saw hogs castrated, kittens drowned, chickens butchered – all the normal business of farm life so foreign to urban and suburban dwellers.
I don’t know how old she was when Hershel was killed. It may even have happened before she was born, or she may have been too young to remember it. Herman and Hershel had been out sledding. They were on their way home, Herman trudging along the country road to their home, pulling Hershel on the sled. A car came hurtling over the hill. The driver, a neighbor who was drunk, did not see the sled with Hershel on it. He ran it over, killing Hershel. Herman blamed himself the way children do when anything bad happens.
Some time later—months or years, I do not know—Herman developed appendicitis. It’s a condition that runs in my family. Some of my siblings and some of my children have had it. Like them, Herman endured the pain uncomplainingly far longer than most people do. By the time he acknowledged being in pain, it was too late to get him to a hospital. His appendix burst. Before he died, he cried out to those around him, “I see Hershel and the angels coming for me.” I’m sure that this is one of the incidents that made Iva so certain of her faith in later life.
I think Iva was in fifth grade when she first saw Chuck, a boy a couple of years older who went to the same school. I don’t know know where or how they first met. At one point she was at a school program with her parents. She turned to her mother and said, “You see that curly headed boy in the second row? I’m going to marry him some day.” That boy was my father. They fell in love in high school, and she quit school to marry him when she was only sixteen. They eloped to Kentucky, where she didn’t need parental permission to marry. She still needed to be eighteen, though, so she wrote the number 18 on a slip of paper and put it in her shoe, all so she could claim without technically lying that she was “over eighteen.”
While Chuck and Iva were dating, they went with some friends to a swimming hole in a nearby river. Anyone who has ever gone swimming in a river knows that the water is not clear, especially after a few swimmers have stirred up the muck from the bottom of the river. Another feature of river swimming is that one was sometimes joined by other swimming creatures, particularly snakes. Iva wore a modest, black swimsuit with a top that tied around her neck. As she was swimming, she saw a long, black ribbon slither by in the water near her. Screaming in horror, she jumped up out of the water only to find that the top of her swimsuit had come undone. With every eye on her, she ducked back into the water to put her swimsuit top back on.
One of Chuck’s classmates, another boy named Ray, also admired Iva. The three of them went on a hayride together along with other friends. Snuggled down in the hay, Chuck reached his arm around Iva. Ray likewise reached his hand toward Iva, hoping to hold her hand without anyone noticing. Instead his hand met Chuck’s, and he grabbed it thinking it was Iva’s. Chuck and Ray held hands through the whole hayride, Chuck never letting on that he knew the hand he was holding was Ray’s.
These are some of the stories I heard from my mom during my childhood. They were told over and over, so I’m sure my brothers and sisters also remember them. My dad will also recognize them. I invite them along with Donna and Emogene to comment, share other stories they might know, and correct me where I’m wrong.